This pizza has the elements of one of my favorite pasta dishes: butternut squash ravioli with sage leaves and freshly grated Parmesan. The idea emerged from a conversation with a friend, who suggested I bake a seasonal pizza pie with sage, brown butter, and winter squash. I incorporated sage, the leaves of an evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region, and a member of the mint family, into an earthy pesto sauce with walnuts and Parmesan cheese. In place of brown butter, there’s plenty of olive oil.
My original plan was to top the pesto with slices of orange-fleshed kabocha or butternut squash. Instead, I used Japanese sweet potatoes, which I already happened to have on hand. I roasted a few, and scattered a small handful of pieces over the pesto sauce; rich and starchy, a little went a long way. Though not nearly as colorful as winter squash, the sweet potatoes add a nice texture and hint of sweetness. Honey-infused goat cheese, which I found at Trader Joe’s, ties together all the sweet and savory flavors; if unavailable, substitute plain goat cheese and drizzle with honey.
Sage Pesto Pizza
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast or active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups flour
1 oz fresh sage leaves (approximately 1 cup)
⅔ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
⅓ cup walnut pieces
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 oz honey goat cheese (if unavailable, use plain goat cheese and drizzle with honey)
Thinly sliced pieces of roasted Japanese sweet potato or winter squash, such as kabocha or butternut
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
Prepare the dough: Place warm water in a large bowl. Gently stir in sugar and yeast until dissolved. Set aside in a warm spot for about 15 minutes, until frothy. Add olive oil, flour, and salt (salt kills yeast, so it’s important that it not come into contact with the yeast directly; mix the salt into the flour before stirring all the ingredients together.) Stir ingredients together until a soft dough just comes together. Directly in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth and elastic. It should spring back when touched. Return dough to the bowl, if you removed it to knead, and cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for at least two hours – the longer the better (for best results, prepare the dough the day before and refrigerate overnight. Allow time for dough to return to room temperature before assembling pizza.) If the dough starts to rise out of the bowl, gently push it down.
Prepare the pesto: In the bowl of a food processor, combine sage leaves, olive oil, Parmesan, walnuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Process until smooth. Set aside.
Assemble and bake: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Stretch dough into a large circle or rectangle, and place on a pizza stone or baking sheet; the crust will be thick! Spread with pesto sauce, leaving a thin border around the edges. Arrange a small handful of roasted squash or sweet potato pieces over the sauce. Scatter generously with honey goat cheese and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes, until crust begins to turn golden brown and brown spots form on the goat cheese. Let cool on the pizza stone for a couple minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container.